Schaeffer makes court appearance

Driver faces charges in fatal crash with church van
Dec. 03, 2012 @ 05:11 PM

With the courtroom filled with members of Cedar Grove Baptist Church, a Seymour man faced a judge for the first time on Monday on charges he caused the deaths of two church members and injuries to several more when his vehicle collided with one of the church’s vans.

Tyler Schaeffer allegedly was high on bath salts when he crossed the center line of Chapman Highway on Sept. 16. Schaeffer  reportedly was released from a previous conviction and was on probation at the time of the accident, and the Sevier County Sheriff’s Office had an active warrant for his arrest at the time of the wreck. He is now being held at the Sevier County Jail in lieu of a $2 million bond.

There was little action for Circuit Judge Richard Vance to take at Monday’s arraignment hearing, which is merely the formal reading of charges against a defendant.

During Monday’s brief court appearance, Vance took that action and ordered the public defender’s office to represent Schaeffer. He also set an April 22 plea date for Schaeffer’s next scheduled appearance; that date represents the defendant’s opportunity to enter a plea agreement but can be rescheduled.

Schaeffer was driving south on Chapman Highway when he crossed the line and struck the van head-on as church members returned from a trip. The impact sent the van rolling off the highway and into a ditch, where it burst into flames.

The driver, 45-year-old Jeffrey Trussell, of Maryville, died in the wreck along with 16-year-old Courteney Kaliszewski. The other passengers in the van were also injured in the wreck.

Schaeffer suffered injuries as well, and remained in a Knoxville hospital for weeks. Sevier County Sheriff’s deputies arrested him on the burglary warrant as soon as he was released from the hospital. A Sevier County grand jury indicted him later on charges including two counts of vehicular homicide, reckless aggravated assault and DUI.

A blood sample from Schaeffer indicated he had methylone in his system at the time of the crash, and investigators found that substance inside his car, according to District Attorney General Jimmy Dunn. Methylone is a substance used in bath salts that mimics the effects of the drug ecstasy.